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OU Gets Lanner Report
Summary, due out next week, allegedly cites group for mismanagement, lack of accountability

By GARY ROSENBLATT
New York Jewish Week
December 22, 2000

NEW YORK—The special commission appointed by the Orthodox Union to investigate its role in the Rabbi Baruch Lanner affair will release a detailed and highly critical executive summary of its findings and recommendations next week, on the eve of the organization's biannual conference, The Jewish Week has learned.

The much-anticipated report, about 50 pages in length, will take the OU to task for its management, personnel and financial procedures, and overall lack of accountability. The summary is expected to answer this question: Who at the OU knew of alleged misdeeds and when did they know it?

It is also believed to include suggestions for sweeping changes in the way the OU operates, which is certain to heighten the existing tensions within the organization between those seeking major internal transformation and others who prefer to maintain the status quo.

The summary will not include the narrative of Rabbi Lanner's alleged abuse of teenagers in his charge in the OU's NCSY youth group over a three-decade period, but will reiterate the conclusion of the commission's full report-a 331-page document-that he is culpable for an extensive range of misdeeds, according to sources close to the OU.

In addition, while the summary will not make specific recommendations as to which, if any, professional and lay leaders should be dismissed, it will deal with organizational principles and guidelines for sexual conduct and call for a new management structure within the OU. It will also urge national OU leaders to hold a series of town meetings at OU-member synagogues around the country as a means of restoring trust to the century-old organization.

The Jewish Week, whose investigation into the rabbi's actions prompted the OU inquiry, will post the full executive summary on its Web site (www.thejewishweek.com) as soon as it is made available.

Several people who have seen the full report say that anyone who reads it will be stunned by the depth and scope of misdeeds and missed opportunities it describes, and will come away with a clear understanding of which professional and lay leaders are most culpable for a pattern of negligence that allowed Rabbi Lanner to continue in his post.

OU president Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, whose six-year term ends next week, received the only copy of the full report from the commission on Dec. 7. It has been read, under tight security restrictions, only by members of a 13-man committee he chose to help determine the ground rules for the executive board's consideration of the report, including who else, if anyone, will see it.

The 23-member executive board is expected to meet Dec. 25 and vote on the recommendations of the committee that has reviewed the report. But apparently the committee itself is split between those who advocate adopting the commission's recommendations and those who prefer to downplay them and ride out any negative publicity.

Members of the special commission, chaired by Hillel president Richard Joel, recognize that in effect they are asking the OU to reinvent itself by changing not only its procedures but its culture. That is never easy for an organization, but is especially difficult at a time when OU leaders feel defensive and under public scrutiny.

OU officials are said to be dismayed that rather than having the painful episode behind them more than five months after it came to light, the Lanner affair and speculation over the commission report will receive renewed public attention just as they meet for their national convention Dec. 29 to Jan. 1 at the Rye Town Hilton.

A Dec. 31 plenary session titled "The Responsibilities of Jewish Organizational Leadership" is expected to deal with the Rabbi Lanner case, but as of this writing it has not been decided who will chair the afternoon session or how it will be framed, according to an OU spokesperson.

Harvey Blitz, a local attorney who is slated to succeed Ganchrow as president, touched on the NCSY controversy when he spoke last week at an OU meeting in Los Angeles. He said the organization was working to resolve the situation as quickly and equitably as possible.

It is believed that newly elected officers will serve terms shorter than the customary two years to allow for changes to be made, if and when the organization opts to replace certain leaders.

As the OU begins to deliberate how to deal with the commission's report and recommendations, there are several key figures to watch.

First, of course, is Ganchrow, who in the last months of his presidency has had to deal with the serious charges against Rabbi Lanner. His decision to appoint the panel of inquiry from within the Orthodox community has been second-guessed by some OU leaders, particularly those who have criticized him for alleged autocratic tendencies during his tenure.

The special commission, with the help of legal counsel, interviewed as many as 150 people in an in-depth investigation that cost the OU about $1 million in legal fees.

Critics are now saying privately that an inquiry should have been handled internally, quietly and quickly.

Defenders of Ganchrow say that given the severity of the charges and their wide-scale public airing, he had little choice but to appoint the panel.

Attention is also focused on Blitz, his successor, and how he will handle the commission report's recommendations.

At the center of the dispute is Rabbi Raphael Butler, executive vice president of the OU. He also served as national director of NCSY and has been highly regarded for his work. But some critics say that as the OU's top executive, he should be held accountable for the alleged misdeeds that took place under his watch, and dismissed.

Others defend the rabbi and say his departure would be a serious blow to the organization and its stability.

Sources close to the investigation suggest it would be a mistake for critics to judge the commission report, and the OU's response to it, solely on the basis of whether Rabbi Butler remains in his post. They emphasize that the issue goes deeper than any individual and reflects on how the entire $30 million enterprise operates.

Three of the 10 members of the Joel commission play a particularly pivotal role now since they are also members of the OU board. They are businessmen Fred Ehrman and Matthew Maryles, and attorney Alan Fagin. It would be difficult for the board to ignore or impede the recommendations of the commission without alienating those leaders.

But there have been tensions between the commission and the OU over the months, particularly in regard to the delay of several weeks in delivering the report to Ganchrow. The commission members said they had been promised legal indemnification, and would not give the report to the OU until those arrangements were completed.

One commission member, Lydia Kess, resigned over the matter.

In the meantime, no one expects the matter to end soon. The OU is bracing itself for possible lawsuits over the Lanner case; a criminal investigation continues in Monmouth County, N.J., where Rabbi Lanner worked as the principal of a Jewish day school; and the FBI has interviewed at least one person regarding Rabbi Lanner's actions in determining whether or not the agency should become involved in the case.

© New York Jewish Week, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission
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